Category Archives: My journey

The wooden anniversary of Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking


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I kid you not, it seems that the 5 year anniversary is supposed to be celebrated with gifts of wood!! My address is …..

Just kidding of course, but funny that hey. I realised about a week ago that it is the 5th anniversary of JNSQW this year. It is probably an opportune time to take stock and assess what happened over half a decade. In order to do that I had a look through the site and especially the statistics gathered by a plugin.

The first and probably most interesting thing from a personal point of view is that I published my first post entitled ‘My journey 1’ on the 31st of March 2013. That is my father’s date of birth. As you might know he sadly passed away earlier this year, but what makes this so weird is the fact that he was without a doubt the most influential person on my woodworking journey. The date of publishing the post was definitely not deliberate as I remember writing the it while attending the St John’s Easter Schools Rugby Tournament in Jwanasibeki. By the way, if you click the link you can listen to the most iconic song ever written in honor of that cruel, crazy, beautiful place.

Another interesting thing I have noticed is the gradual change in my style of writing. In the early years I focused on describing/documenting every minor step in the shop in a fairly insipid manner. Slowly over time it has evolved into the current style that I can only describe as a verbose pompousness. I am pretty sure it does not appeal to everyone’s taste, but I like it and it reflects my sense of humor, so don’t make your problems mine. Most of it is tongue in the cheek of course, but might also be a subconscious attempt to impersonate my ultimate hero David Charlesworth? Not that David is pompous in my mind, that bit is me.

The gradual change in style took place in the process of writing 273 posts (including this very post). In terms of content it seems that there were a few distinct phases which overlapped somewhat. Early on most of the posts dealt with setting up shop and building shop made tools. It slowly progress to posts on building furniture more recently. I think it can be rather helpful for someone who is starting out to read the posts chronologically, as it reflects an actual journey in terms of changing priorities, developing skills and finding reading/teaching resources. I might therefore created a page where it would be easier to find posts in chronological order.

The first comment I received from a reader was one sent by Gordon on 23/10/2014, thus more than a year and a half after the first post. It read “That is one massive bench! I admire your dedication and I’m sure it’ll give you lifelong satisfaction. My woodworking philosophy is similar to yours. I made 2 machines (a saw guide for a Makita 9″ circular saw and a router table for a Tritan router) and I bought 2 machines (a band saw and a pedestal drill press) before I started to understand that hand tools are not only more satisfying to use, but are often quicker and more economical ($ and space) for the hobbiest. Have you read or watched Paul Sellers?”

Again, it is incredible how things turn out. In October 2016 JNSQW was nominated by readers as one of the five most popular hand tool woodworking websites on the web, in a competition ran by the Woodworkers Guild of America. The winner was then chosen by allowing another week or so (cannot remember exactly) of voting by readers. Guess who won … yes, Paul Sellers did. To be honest, I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Paul Sellers, but that is not the point. The first comment JNSQW received asked whether I have read Paul’s stuff, funny that!

Anyway, back to comments, so far the plugin recorded 492 comments. It seems that it also counts my replies, so in actual fact we are looking at a number closer to 250 or so as I try to reply to most. I am pretty sure that guys like Christopher Schwarz receive more comments on a single post, but that helps a pompous person to stay grounded (always a silver lining hey). Although, I am pretty sure that my revelation on my home page that as a psychiatrist I can read minds, must surely account for most of the lack of comments. It is simply a waste of time typing what I already know you are thinking!

I rest my case.

Before we get to more boring statistics, I want to mention the most rewarding thing about setting up a website like this. It was most definitely not something I anticipated or aimed for when considering the process. It is the fact that I met so many legendary craftsmen who share this ancient pursuit with me in their serene hideouts all over the globe. I would like to mention a few names while realising that I am omitting most.

Jonathan White is a woodworker I have the utmost respect for.  Besides that, we have become really good friends without ever laying eyes on each other. I really encourage you to go and check out his site The Bench Blog. You will not find a craftsman with more attention to detail anywhere. Thank you Jonathan, I hope we can continue to share this wonderful craft.

Then of course we have a tool historian of note in Bob Demers, who is my go-to guy for information on any old tool. Again we became very good friends over years even though we do not talk every day and has never met in person. Thank you Bob.

Don Williams has been one of my personal heros in terms of woodworking for a long time. Like the infamous Mr. Charlesworth, he has that admirable gift of being exceptionally good at what he does and the linguistic skills to make very complex stuff seem quite obvious. When Don first contacted me a few years ago, it was probably the biggest compliment I have ever received that someone of his stature would take the time to read my drivel. Since then Don has helped me with so many different things. He really is a legend of note and has one of the premier woodworking websites (The Barn on White Run) on the net. Thank you Don.

So back to statistics then. In the first place I have to say that I have no idea how accurate the statistics are that the plugin collects. I also have an idea that all the stats pre-January 2017 got lost when my site disappeared into thin air for a while, but that might be wrong. What I am trying to say in a roundabout way is that you should take these stats with more than a healthy amount of salt. To add to that, I also do not know what the different terms mean. For example they distinguish between visitor and visit. JNSQW has to date recorded 4 962 024 visits and 351 287 visitors. That sounds like heaps to me, but might just be spam robots for all I know?

On average the site records between 200-400 visitors and 4000-5000 visits per day. It looks like around 75% of the visitors are from the USA, followed by China in a distant second place.

Well that concludes my five-year-anniversary-celebration-post. Thank you to every reader that finds something useful here. It makes it all worthwhile.



Project inventory 2016


It is that time of year once again, to take stock of what happened in the Je ne sais quoi Woodworking shop during the past 11 months. As usual I will add links to the posts I wrote on all the projects in this annual inventory.

I started off 2016 with small projects to improve the shop and built a few key tools that would come in handy later in the year. This mitre box and saw did not need much rehabilitation, but did suck up a few hours to set up and tune. My good friend Bob Demers guided me through the process of tuning the saw for the mitre box and wrote an epic treatise on the topic. It is as easy as Falling out of a tree, if you know the principles.

Accurate sawing off the grid


After using my new bench for almost a year by January 2016, I made a few small adjustments. So far the bench is working exactly as I hoped and I am using 95% of the design features. Therefore it seems that the bench fits well with my particular way of working.

Upgrades to my split top Roubo bench


I already knew that a reamer and tenon cutter would be needed later in the year so I got stuck into it early on.


This set of trammel points were joined in holy matrimony.


A Swedish side axe head received a handle and sheath.


The most important project of the year actually started in 2015 already and will clearly extend into 2017. It is a table for friends of ours. In January I put pen to paper for the first time in terms of formalising the design that evolved during countless hours of reverie since about mid 2015. I applied some of the basic principles employed by artisans from the pre-industrialisation period in terms of ratios and proportion. The design was otherwise inspired by the work of George Nakashima and Japanese joinery in general. I chose this genre as it compliments the the wild nature of the wood I have in my collection. After nutting out the key proportions of the design on paper, I tested the concept design by building a small prototype. This process led to further tweaks to the design, the most drastic of which was a redesign of one of the two legs. I came up with a so called Windsor Leg design.

You can read the series of posts on this project here.


A saw vise has been on the list of things to buy for a few years by early January 2016. In the process of discussing options with Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works he advised me to build my own rather than look for a vintage model. He also pointed me towards a design by Jason Thigpen, which became the inspiration for my version.

The Fountainhead


This year I was also very fortunate to be able to work with my father while he visited briefly. We worked on a bed for my daughter.


Aoife’s bed is also based on Japanese design and joinery. The main structure was made out of reclaimed Scots Pine and the headboard from Without (Cape Holly or Ilex mitis). This was the first project where I used dovetail keys to stabilise cracks in a feral board.

Aoife’s bed


I finally got round to building a sector. I made it from scrap Olienhout that has a lot of history behind it.

Olienhout sector from the Groot Marico


In May we spent a week on the island of Kho Samui in Thailand. While there we did a cooking class with a wonderful lady by the name of Ying. She inspired a few unplanned projects.

A tribute to Ying

Coconut shell lights


The other major project of 2016 is the table for the shebeen. I am in the process of using a massive slice of Rose Gum for a table top furnished with a heavy reclaimed Scots Pine undercarriage. A few readers have commented on the robustness of this table. The reason for this is that when the brave warriors of this fair land descend on a humble shebeen, they do not tend to take any prisoners. That is why you hardly ever find any furniture in a hundred meter radius from a shebeen. To survive in such a harsh habitat, a table needs to be overbuilt to the extreme.

A table for a shebeen


A wonderful 2016 addition to the Je ne sais quoi team came in the form of Cape Town based woodworker Frank Bartlett. Frank started writing on a few of his legendary projects and it has been very well received. I want to thank Frank for his contribution and hope to continue working together for many years. Our aim in this regard is to create a a space where woodworkers from Africa can publish posts and hopefully become a hotspot for networking. In short, we want to put African woodworkers on the map.

We might have a new cadre in the form of another talented Capetonian by the name of Werner Schneeberger in the very near future. I am privileged to have seen some of his work already so can attest to the quality. Werner we look forward to your contributions in 2017 brother.

Cape yellow wood chest

African Rosewood workbench

Mitre box and saw restoration

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The absolute highlight of 2016 was when Je ne sais quoi Woodworking were chosen as one of the five most nominated hand tool orientated blog sites by the Woodworkers Guild of America. It was a huge honour and I would like to thank all our readers who went through the trouble of nominating and voting for us. It realy helps to know that there are people out there who support JNSQ Woodworking.

Please vote for Je ne sais quoi Woodworking


I realised with a shock this morning that Je ne sais quoi Woodworking made the shortlist of 5 nominees that received the most nominations in the “Best Hand Tool Work Blogsite” category. It is a competition run by the Woodworkers Guild of America.

It was also a real delight to see my favourite blogger Jonathan White’s site The Bench Blog among the finalists. Congratulations Jonathan, it is well deserved.

I would like to ask all of our (Jonathan and I) readers who enjoy our reverie to please vote for us here. This a link to the voting page.

It is a wonderful feeling when you realise that there are people out there who actually finds my musings useful, so thank you to all of you out there who took the time to nominate Je ne sais quoi.

Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking received a nomination for the Blogger Awards

A big thanks to Jonathan White from The Bench Blog for the nomination. He on the other hand was nominated by the Woodworkers Guild of America themselves and I would like to encourage anyone out there who enjoys his excellent blog to do the same. After learning about the nomination of JNSQW, I in turn nominated Robert Demers’ blog The Valley Woodworker.

I want to ask our readers who finds these blogs useful to keep nominating as it seems only the blogs with the most nominations will end up being selected for the voting stage of the competition.

You can go here to check out how the competition works.

Let’s see if a woodworking blog from Africa can make it in America?

Why do we collect tools?


This is a question that came up in a recent discussion I had with Frank Bartlett and Bob Demers. I thought it could be a good idea to have a wider discussion to hear what other woodworkers and collectors of woodworking tools have to say. To get you thinking I will try to verbalise my ideas on the topic.

As a (very much) parttime hobbyist woodworker I do not get to spend a lot of time doing woodwork. It is a constant frustration, especially when you end up not being able to do any work for almost a month, like what happened to me recently (hence my prolonged absence from the blogosphere). During times like that the only thing I can do is to use the little bits of time I do have to read about woodworking or tools. When I think about it, I probably spend a hell of a lot more time reading than working (woodworking that is).

I sometimes get the impression that some bloggers/writers tend to make negative comments about people who read more than what they work. It creates a type of stigma which I think is very unhelpful. Most of the woodworkers that form part of the online woodworking community are not able to make shavings constantly, but tends to read as much as they can because you can do that in short breaks at work, on holiday etc. They are therefore perhaps slightly less skilled, but usually quite a bit better informed about various historical aspects of the craft. That certainly does not make their contribution less valuable or in any way inferior.

Now that I have opened that can of worms, I would like to argue that it is this specific dynamic that has the biggest influence on my collecting tendencies. Reading about various different tools, how they are used, who made them, why they are so “essential” etc etc, plays a huge role in that urge to find such a tool. Once you find one, especially a really old one, it is like finding a treasure of some sort and therefore quite a challenge to resist.

That brings me to another angle on the same basic idea. It is very strange how life can sometimes go full circle. When I had to make the decision to drop woodworking as a subject at school, I replaced it with History. It is a long story which I explained in a previous post, which you can find here.  Despite history being something that took me away from woodwork I have a suspicion that it now plays a role in my fascination with tools.  Partly as a result of my interest in history, I find it extremely fascinating to read about the history of tools, the companies who made them and learning how to date the tools according to various features that changed over the years of it’s production.

Once you (armed with the above knowledge) then come across a tool that you know was for example made before 1900, it becomes irresistible, especially if the price is ridiculously cheap. It almost feels like time traveling when you have the privilege of using a tool that was used by other craftsmen more than a 100 years ago. In this way you also become part of that history.

At this point I have to state that I still like to think that I buy tools to work with rather than put them on a shelve (of course with no judgement on those who prefer doing just that). I can back that up by the fact that I am buying a lot less now than before. I almost have a complete set of stuff I need for the work I am doing at this stage. Well, to be honest the unprecedented  weakening of our currency also played it’s part. Despite that I now only tend to buy very specific tools that I need for certain tasks that would be difficult with my current set.

Again there is probably a caveat to the above statement that would be important to add in the interest of complete transparency. I have been able to find a way to justify further “unnecessary” tool procurements. If I see a tool that is reasonably priced and a significant step up from the one I already have, my justification goes like this: “the new tool can replace my old one and I can then keep the previous one for my son”. In fact I actually also buy tools “for his best mate Connor”. Crafty hey?

Unfortunately it has already happened on a few “isolated” occasions that the justification had to be utilised.  It therefore made me take note of Frank’s comment that he decided not to build up a second set of tools for his son. He argues that his son will actually appreciate the tools more as heirlooms if he (his son) has his own history with the tools. In other words, used those very same tools for some years with his father. I have never thought of it like this and think he makes a good point. The only problem I have with that is that it would negate my handy justification (for continued indulgence in tool procurement) and expose my carefully manicured tools to inevitable albeit non-deliberate abuse until their skill level picks up.

What I have noticed though, is that I tend to nowadays lean towards tools that would not need much rehab whereas in the past I bought stuff that needed a lot of work. I do not regret it at all though, as the rehab projects taught me so much about the tools and how they work (or should work). After restoring 6-7 bench planes you should however know what you need to know and it actually becomes something that keeps you from generating shavings, hence my change in tactics. In the picture below you can see a picture of my Stanley no. 78 rabbet plane. It is from my early phase. As you can see it was completely reconditioned, needed a levercap (which I fashioned out of a piece of brass), made an idiosyncratic levercap screw from scratch and ordered a new blade from Lie-Nielsen for it. Now I would not even dream of doing that.


I hope these musings will suffice as a good starting point for a wider discussion on this topic. Please join in and add your two cents’ worth.

PS – for a comprehensive and riveting discussion on the topic see this post by The Valley Woodworker.

Jonathan the Great


We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Thailand and Hong Kong. Upon arrival at my practice I discovered two packages delivered from the US of A. One of them was a Peck, Stow & Wilcox slick that I bought from Jim Bode, so it was expected. The other turned out to be a present from my woodworking friend Jonathan White of the Bench Blog. Jonathan is famous for several things including the neatest shop in the history of woodworking and the so called “White milk bottle trick” (as apposed to the Charlesworth ruler trick).

It was incredibly humbling to receive such a present from a woodworking mate that I have never even met in person. It reminded me once again of the incredible camaraderie amongst the woodworking bloggers and the value of our online community. It is something that I have become increasingly aware of. My exposure to other woodworkers around the globe via their websites has inspired me to push my own boundaries.

Any way this post is not about me, it is about my first blog brother.

The parcel included this stunning marking gauge which Jonathan reconditioned himself. He wrote a post on the restoration, which is a riveting read. It is the most wonder tool you can ever imagine. The brass gives it that wonderful luxurious weight. The Ebony is absolutely flawless and shiny. Jonathan filed the pins in order for them to cut rather than scrape, which makes a world of difference then using the tool.


He also sent me this set of bench dogs he made himself. If I am not mistaken it looks like Sapele. This set of dogs is J. White signature work. It is simply perfectly made.


As you can see the face of the dog was cut at an angle, which is the type of attention to detail that one can expect from a craftsman of his statue. The face also features a perfectly cut piece of leather to improve grip and protect the your work from being marred.


As you can see here they already did duty on my bench while working on a shop made sector (post to follow in the next few weeks). They work like a charm, I can tell.


Jonathan thank you so very much, you are a legend mate. Thank you also for inspiring me and many other woodworkers to improve our work. It has been and will continue to be an absolute pleasure to correspond with you around this mutual passion of ours.

My journey 6


In this instalment of “My journey” I would like to discuss the next frontier that is looming in the distance. As most of you probably know by now, I have spent almost all my shop time over the past 4 years building shop structures, building jigs, building tools and restoring vintage tools. It is starting to dawn on me that I need to move on to building furniture as the lion’s share of the setting up phase should be completed by the end of the year.

Last week I found a link to an excellent document that a reader posted in a comment on the Lost Art Press blog. It seems to be an inventory for an antiques auction that took place in March of this year. It consists of page after page of some of the most beautiful and timeless pieces of furniture I have ever seen. There are more than a few examples of pieces designed by heavyweights such as Klaare Klint, Arne Jacobson, and Peder Moos.


It got me thinking that I should probably start building lose interpretations of these, while continuing to grapple with the ancient guidelines on preindustrial design as documented in the seminal work By Hand & Eye. This is a book by George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin. It is available from Lost Art Press. I thought this could be a hands-on way to develop a feel for shape and proportion. Once I feel comfortable with building such interpretations, it should be a natural progression towards more personal designs.

If one decides to be influenced/inspired by a particular style it should probably be one you really like. The same goes for designers, it is probably best to follow the lead of a legend who’s work has stood the test of time. I really like the timeless (to me anyway) look of early to mid-century Nordic furniture. It therefore makes sense to build some of these before launching into the full-blown je ne sais quoi (in other words my own) phase of design.

It is of course also true that very few people come up with truly unique designs, we are all influenced (whether consciously or subconsciously) by stuff we observe. We are all standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. That gives us an opportunity to see where we can go next. Our designs are therefore literally grounded in history whether we like it or not.

Thus, my idea is to consciously ground myself in a style I admire, before trying to envision the next frontier.

PS – Please feel free to point me towards similar documents or websites that deals with the same style. It will be much appreciated.


My Journey 5 (The Awesome Foursome)


It has been a while since I wrote “My Journey 4”, 17/7/2013 to be precise. Over the past few weeks  I started thinking about the process over the past 3 years since starting to set up my current shop. As I explained previously, I am using the shop setup phase to improve my skills and to learn as much as possible before diving into the proper cabinet making phase. Over the past three years my knowledge, philosophy and skills have undergone a major metamorphosis, predominantly as a result of all the reading, research and DVD based learning I did.

In this post I want to discuss what I consider to be the most influential characters in this process. The so called “awesome foursome”. They are (in no particular order) David Charlesworth, Christopher Schwarz, Patrick Leach and Deneb Puchalski. Let’s tackle them one by one.

I was given five complimentary DVD’s by Lie-Nielsen as part of my first purchase back in December 2012. I could chose from their list and just happened to chose four Charlesworth masterpieces, as I did not even know who he was at that time. You will find the titles on the library page of this site. These DVDs changed the way I think about and approach woodwork in the most profound manner possible. I struggle to remember or understand why I even enjoyed woodworking prior to watching these DVDs. He single handedly opened up the ancient and mesmerizing world of hand tools, their use, care and maintenance. His dry English humour, meticulous approach and crystal clear explanations are absolutely riveting to a receptive woodworker. I say, to “a receptive woodworker”, as my wife absolutely hates it.

My enjoyment of the craft has increased tenfold since he made me aware of the quiet precision made possible by sharp, well maintained quality hand tools. His advice and techniques apply to almost every woodworking problem I have encountered since. Another key characteristic of David that changed my approach significantly is his sedate and thoughtful yet meticulous and deliberate manner. In the past I used to try and race through projects, trying to finish them yesterday and often ended up feeling unhappy with the result. Charlesworth taught me to slow down, enjoy the process and consider each move carefully before diving in. This made a profound difference in the enjoyment and quality of my work.

He is without a doubt my woodworking icon.

d charlesworth

The next guy I really appreciate is Christopher Schwarz. The first I saw of him was also a Lie-Nielsen DVD on workbenches. After watching a few Charlesworth DVDs, I enjoyed his but was not all that impressed. Since December 2012 though (when I first watched that DVD), I came across more and more of his stuff and really acquired a taste for his work. What I like about the guy is his seemingly limitless enthusiasm for the tools and history of the craft.

I then bought his two books on workbenches (which you can find on the library page of this site) and enjoyed that as much as the Charlesworth DVDs. I have now reread the books several times and am in the process of building my own 18th century bench based in large part on the advise and discussions in these two books. In December 2013 I read his book ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest’ and that really got me interested in his way of approaching the craft. I really like his style of writing and learned heaps about several tools I’ve not even been aware of before.



Next is Deneb Puchalski. I got to know Deneb via e-mail communication with Lie-Nielsen. He was extremely helpful from the start and over time become my go-to man when I need advice about anything. He helped when I needed advice on the best angle of attach while I built all those wooden hand planes, suggested the best blades from their collection for the various planes, and more recently he gave me advice on the best adhesive to use (in terms of open time) once I assemble my workbench. It really helps to have someone who knows what they are talking about when you are stuck. He is also very prompt with his responses, which I appreciate given that he is probably quite a busy guy.


Last, but not least is Patrick Leach. Patrick is the owner of The Superior Works. He sells old vintage tools that he finds all over the world. Patrick has a vast knowledge of old tools and the manufacturers that used to produce these tools (and is not scared to share his knowledge). His famous work called “Patricks Blood and Gore” seems to be the most comprehensive source of information on Stanley planes available and it is free to read and download from his website. His monthly list of tools for sale is accompanied by descriptions of each tool. The information in these lists has taught me more than any other on the topic of tool history.

Patrick is helping me to find all the old tools (that I need) that is not available for sale anymore and in the process I have learnt heaps. I really appreciate having access to someone like him, while being stuck in the tool wilderness.



In other words I am a different woodworker as a result of these gentlemen and I am very grateful for the knowledge and different perspective they have imparted in various different ways over the past 2 years.

My journey 4

In this edition of my journey I would like to write a bit about where I am in my woodworking in terms of what I am busy with and how I want to approach it from a philosophical point of view. My approach is clearly changing as the years go by so I thought it would be good to document it from time to time, in order to look back and put it all in perspective somewhere down the line.

For the past 2 years I have been busy setting up a functional workshop and I estimate that this phase of predominantly working on the shop (rather than making furniture) will take at least another 2-3 years. It might well sound ridiculous to other woodworkers, but woodworking is a leisure pastime for me and I do not have that much of it. I do not have to produce heaps of stuff to enjoy the process and the last thing I want is to feel pressured to get a heap of stuff done similar to my day job.

Therefore I am progressing slowly and trying to consciously savor the time in the shop purely for being there rather than what I produce while I am there. I know a lot of people say one should try to build furniture as much as possible while in the shop, but I enjoy the challenge of building and restoring tools as much, if not more. When I feel that my shop is setup in a way that would make the next step (of building furniture) enjoyable, I will move on.

What I am finding is that the process of building tools and shop structures is giving me an opportunity to hone my skills on stuff that is less important to get perfect, which is not what I want to do while building furniture. The issue here is that although I have always known that woodwork is my thing, I have not been able to do much due to the career path I have chosen. Therefore I am a real novice and has no proper training to fall back on. It is only now that I am starting to read and learn about the finer points of this wonderful craft. This is another reason why I am happy to spend another 2 years working on the shop, as the learning curve in terms of practical skills takes time and my shop time is limited. Another advantage of going about it this way is that I am able to figure out what type of bench and other paraphernalia works for me before jumping into the fray of proper cabinet making.

If we then move on to how I want to approach the phase of building predominantly furniture. My philosophical stance has a lot to do with how I feel about the wood I work with. As I explained in “My journey 3” I feel a certain responsibility to produce timeless pieces, whether that is tools or furniture, out of sheer respect for the forest, it’s history and how it ties up with the history of my own ancestors. This might sound a bit fluffy, but I do not feel the need to justify myself in this respect.

In terms of the above, it is much easier to produce a timeless piece while building tools as I will be able to use and enjoy the tool more often than a piece of furniture. I also see these tools as heirlooms that could stay in the family for a long time after I pass on and so attain that timeless status in another way. Since reading lots of old (mostly late 19th century) woodwork books it is surprising how little has changed in terms of the design and use of especially handtools. Hence my view of this pursuit as a shortcut towards timeless products. If you are interested in getting hold of these old books, go to the library page on this website and you will find two links to websites where one can download heaps of these books for free.

In the meantime I am trying to read and learn as much as possible about design to prepare for the next phase which will be far more challenging.

My journey 3

In this installment of ‘My journey’ I want to explore the core reasons why I became interested in woodwork. As a psychiatrist I make a living out of having a reasonable understanding of how one’s childhood (to a large degree) shape the person you turn out to be. In my case it is just the same.

Possibly the single most influential factor came about as a result of my parents’ divorce when I was almost 5 years of age. My mother and I subsequently moved from a town infested by Blue Bulls supporters, to the area were the rest of the family on both mother’s and father’s side has dwelled for several centuries. This area is one of the most spectacular parts of Azania, with ancient hardwood rainforests cladding the Outeniqua mountains as it meanders along the southernmost coastline of Africa.

I therefore found myself separated from my father by roughly 1200km of National Party ruled territory. My father, who also grew up in these parts, spent most of his free time plugging away at some woodworking project. We therefore spent most of the precious little time we had together making sawdust, hence probably the positive association with woodworking. In particular I remember how we glued the Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) top of the dining room table that we still use on a daily basis, back in 1985. In fact I have done quite a bit of the writing of these posts, while sitting at that very same table.


Another influence came from spending quite a bit of time in the forests were the wood we used in the shop stood for 500 years or more. You might think I am exaggerating, but these trees generally grow very slow and end up extremely hard and dense. The forest belongs to the ‘Big Two’. The colossal Kalanders (also known as Outeniqua Yellowwood or Baster Geelhout or Podocarpus falcatus), some of which are up to 35 meters tall, has a stem circumference of up to12 meters (containing 30 square meters of wood) and rules it’s kingdom with graceful authority. The ruling powers of the Elephants that used to teem in the forest has weakened due to diminishing numbers. Only a few survive, but the thrill of possibly running into them continues to add mystique to the experience of roaming around the primeval forest.


If you want to know more about these animals I suggest that you look for the work of Gareth Patterson. He has made an in-depth study of them since 2001 and found evidence to suggest that there are at least 5 different females within the surviving group that moseys around the forest hinterlands. This seems to suggest that there is a good chance that they will not be lost to future generations as some authorities reported in the past.

One of our family fables has it that one of our earliest ancestors in this part of the world hunted these forest gods during the time when they were responsible for many deaths amongst the woodcutters. The story of these woodcutters is also a fascinating one. They were probably some of the toughest people who ever lived.

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As a result of the close historic ties and personal experience of spending time in the forest I feel intimately connected with the wood that comes from it. For that reason I have religiously collected wood from these forests over the last 13 years, most of which was dried naturally. I feel a certain responsibility to produce something special with it out of sheer respect for it’s history and heritage.

This leads me on to my approach in the shop, but we will leave that for next time.